Venice: The Alternative to Italy’s Pasta

Published by Tuesday, October 16, 2018 Permalink 0

by Jonell Galloway

No, I’m sorry. The staple of Venice is not pasta.

Yes, in Italy, they eat pasta, but Venice and the neighboring Veneto region are relative newcomers to both pasta and Italy. Venice and the Veneto, which the Venetian Republic dominated for centuries, only became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866 to escape the rule of the Austrian Empire, imposed after the Napoleonic Wars. Before that, the people of the Veneto didn’t speak much Italian; they primarily spoke Venetian. The Italian language and customs? They’ve adopted those, including pasta, relatively recently.

Abandoned agricultural storage building in a rice field in northern Italy

 

In contrast to most of Italy, the Veneto’s main starches are polenta and rice; pasta appears, but only on the odd day. Dine out with a Venetian and you can be sure he’ll order risotto or eat a dish served with polenta as a side. And sometimes, potato gnocchi.

In the Roman Empire — and even now in Italy — “polenta” consisted of what we call “mush” or gruel, but it can be made from almost any grain, corn polenta being the most widely marketed.
riso
Millet, also eaten as porridge, grew wild in Europe as far back as 4000 B.C., so the first Venetian polenta was certainly millet mush. Thanks to millet’s short time to harvest, it was most likely the crop of the earliest, post-nomadic farmers inhabiting the Veneto.

A kind of emmer wheat had grown wild and was domesticated early on. It was mainly eaten as gruel or flat bread, and sometimes made into beer.
Corn arrived late on the scene, brought back from the New World, and eventually replaced millet. Until the end of World War II, residents of the Veneto ate mainly white-corn polenta, a variety called biancoperla. This corn is hardy, although its yields are lower than the yellow most commonly found these days. If you see white polenta in a restaurant, it is often a sign of quality, since it is not only rare, to the point of being given Presidium status by Slow Food, but more expensive.

Three varieties of rice from the Veneto

Rice was introduced to the Veneto by Benedictine nuns in the sixteenth century and the oldest variety carries the name of the village where the abbey was located, Grumolo delle Abbadesse. Rice caught on to the point that in the same century, Marc’Antonio Sarego, a wealthy man from Verona, sold a large estate to buy up marshy lands to grow rice. More investors, many from the city of Venice, followed his example, and thanks to their profits, many of the Palladian villas were built.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes arrived from South America later in the sixteenth century. Several varieties of potato, including those from Cologna and around Vicenza, Padua and Verona, are highly valued and referred to as patata veneta. Sweet potatoes are grown near the riverbeds in the region around Brenta. Those of Anguillara are most prized.

With the introduction of other grains, millet became the staple of the poor or fodder for livestock, while wheat, a wild grass that had long been cultivated, became the rich man’s grain of choice. Nowadays, the Veneto is full of Triticum of many kinds: hard wheat, soft wheat, winter wheat, summer wheat, and spelt, as well as buckwheat. There is bread on every table, usually made from bleached white flour, although more sophisticated bakers use buckwheat, spelt, corn, rye, barley, corn, and several other types of wheat and grains from the region.

Multiple grains from the North of Italy

The plains of the Veneto are a treasure-house of grain and the Venetians make full use of the diversity in their cuisine. Many varieties and colors of each exist, including the IGP-protected black rice known as Vialone Nano Veronese. Belluno in the north is known for its ancient variety of barley, dating back to the time of the original Veneti inhabitants, and Verona for stone-ground Bramata corn polenta, coarser and not precooked.

So in plain talk and culinary terms, what does this mean? It means a style of cuisine based on these grains, mixed with a panoply of other products from the sea and land.

Corn polenta is eaten as a side dish or a main dish mixed with meat, and sometimes with fish or seafood. It’s either eaten soupy, or sometimes left to cool, then fried until crispy. It can be coarsely ground, as in the case of Bramata, or finely ground into white cornmeal. Polenta is eaten as a porridge made with milk, called polentina; as polenta pastizzada, layered with meat similar to lasagne; or as polenta con osei  or połenta e oxeli, served alongside small game birds.

Grilled polenta, served as a side dish in the Veneto

Baccalà alla vicentina, made with the stockfish (dried cod) common throughout the Veneto, is served with a semi-runny white polenta, and fegato alla veneziana, calf’s liver with onions, with either grilled or creamy white polenta. Baccalà mantecato, a mousse made with stockfish, oil, milk, and garlic then laid on a cake of fried polenta or bread, is served in the wine bars of Venice as a cicchetto, the Venetian version of tapas.

In the Polesine, the area just south of Padua and Venice, white corn has historically been preferred over the yellow. Polenta alla carbonara, made also further south in Le Marche, contains Bramata cornmeal and guancialePolenta con i ciccioli, often served as an hors-d’oeuvre with drinks, is rendered pork fat cooked with polenta. For a seasonal appetizer, schie, tiny grey lagoon shrimp, are nestled atop a bed of white polenta.

Cornmeal is not limited to savory dishes. In Padua and Rovigo, smejassa, a sweet focaccia made with cornmeal, aniseed, and fruit, appears on the feast of St. Martin and Christmas Eve. In bakeries and at home, zaletti, also known as zaeti in the Venetian language, are prepared with finely ground cornmeal, butter, and raisins. The Veronese make Tressian, a cornmeal cake known as Amor Polenta in other places in the Veneto. Pinza Dolce Veneto, a cake eaten at Epiphany, combines cornmeal and wheat flour with dried fruit such as raisins, figs, and dates, and is flavored with grappa, fennel seeds, and orange zest. In the countryside around Verona and Vicenza, during Carnival, they eat polenta fritelle, sugar-coated fritters, called fritole in Venetian.

Polenta, dried corn and corn on the cob

Rice (riso) and risotto are eaten all over the Po Valley and north of Italy. Long-grain rice is used for soups and desserts, and shorter-grain, high-starch rices that stick together when cooked for risotto. These include Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma, and Vialone Nano, among others. Risotto is cooked differently from plain rice or pilaf and from boiled rice in that it is never boiled. A soffrito is made from fat and shallot or onions. Rice is added to this and stirred until it toasts. White wine is then poured in and cooked to absorption, and finally, broth is added ladle by ladle until the rice is cooked. Butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano are usually tossed in at the end.

In the Veneto, risotto is almost like rice soup, a consistency referred to as all’onda, and quite different from the version popular in the rest of Italy. The rice must be firm (al dente), not soft or over-cooked, while the risotto itself should have a creamy consistency. It is eaten with a spoon, normally as a starter or primo, sometimes as a main dish. Venetian risotto might be seasoned with seafood, meat, or seasonal vegetables, but care is taken not to mix too many flavors at once.

By far the most celebrated risotto in Venice is risi e bisi, made with fresh spring peas using a special method. It is said there should be as many peas as there are grains of rice, but because peas are expensive and labor-intensive, that rarely happens. In the Veneto, unlike in the rest of Italy, the peas are mixed into the risotto instead of served on top. Asparagus, strawberries and grape risotto are savory, made with garlic, oil, and parsley, and finished with Parmigiano, depending on the area. Porcini mushroom risotto is a classic, and radicchio, the king of Veneto vegetables and available all year long, is another favorite, although it’s not often found in restaurants.

Risi e bisi, a spring specialty

In risotto al nero di seppie, squid ink dyes the white rice black. The Burano specialty risotto de — the best I’ve had was on this lagoon island of fishermen, where it’s made to order — is prepared using goby fish, and is rare enough in Venice proper. Traditionally made with lobster, shrimp and squill, risotto ai frutti di mare is the star of most tourist restaurants, and you’ll often fall upon risotto ai gamberi, i.e., with shrimp. Due to the length of cooking time, it is more often than not microwaved and therefore served overcooked, so take care to order it in a top-notch restaurant.

Vegetarians will love pumpkin risottorisotto alla zucca or de suca, served as a savory starter.

Risotto is sometimes made with meat. Chicken liver risotto is seasoned with sage. I’ve even had risotto made with expensive Amarone wine instead of the classic white wine.

Every respectable cook in the Veneto makes homemade potato gnocchi. You can always recognize when they’re homemade because they’re hand-shaped and irregular. Gnocchi with tomato sauce will please even the most finicky eater, and if you see granseola (spider crab) sauce, go for it because it’s rare and entails much labor.

Making homemade gnocchi

Potato polenta is mixed with chestnut flour and seasoned with salami, meat, cheese, and a variety of other ingredients in neighboring German-speaking Trentino. Riso e patate, a common poor man’s food, especially in winter, is cooked in meat broth. It dates from the Austrian occupation.

Sweet potatoes bear many names in the Veneto: patata americana (Italian) or mericana (Venetian language) or patata dolce or batata. It’s rare to see them in restaurants, but around Padua, they may pop up in homes as gnocchi, pies, and even risotto, much in the same way as pumpkin. In Padua, sweet potatoes also appear in the form of a cake with pine nuts. Even the famous gastronome, Pelligrino Artusi, included a recipe for sweet potato pie with almonds in his nineteenth-century survey of Italian cuisine, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

And finally, pasta. Venetian cuisine does not entirely omit pasta from its starch pantheon.

Pasta e faxioi, or in Italian pasta e fagioli, a hearty soup traditionally eaten in the countryside, now found in simpler city restaurants as a starter, combines fresh or dried Lamon beans from Belluno — a kind of borlotti — with pancetta, potatoes, and other vegetables, and a small pasta such as macaroni or ditalini, seasoned with rosemary.

Legend has it that bigoli, the most prevalent pasta in the Veneto, saw the light of day in Padua in 1604 when a machine called a bigolaro was patented for making vermicelli and “long pasta,” made with soft wheat, water, and salt. Durum wheat and buckwheat versions came later.

Bigoli, the Veneto’s “fat” spaghetti

Bigoli in salsa or en sarde, considered a dish of “atonement” according to Catholic tradition in Venice, is consumed on Christmas Eve, Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, and is now found in practically any true Venetian restaurant any day of the week. It is made from fileted sardines or anchovies, depending on the catch, and marinated for at least 24 hours in white wine vinegar, slow-cooked onions, pine nuts, and raisins, with many variations on this theme. Sarde sauce can be eaten as cicchetti, the traditional small plates eaten in Venetian bars, served on bread or a bed of polenta, or as a sauce with bigoli or other pasta.

The lagoons of the Veneto are full of ducks and other wildfowl so bigoli con anatra or bigołi co’ l’arna in Venetian, originally from Padua and Treviso, is a ragù of duck, including the duck liver and innards, traditionally cooked in its own fat and served over bigoli. It’s slow-cooked, so not common in restaurants, but pure delight. Seeing it on a menu is generally a sign of the authenticity of the restaurant.

Ask someone from Vicenza what pasta their grandmother made and they’re likely to say gargati, a macaroni-like egg pasta made from a mixture of hard and soft wheat. Gargati con il consiero is made with strips of pork fat, white wine, onions, parsley, nettles or other herbs, and tomatoes. Today, mixed ground meat might also be added, and the same sauce might be found on bigoli or in lasagne.

Gargati macaroni

Tortellini di Valeggio, found in the region of Verona, are stuffed with Grana Padano cheese and ground pork and chicken, and are cooked in meat broth.

Many of the dishes listed here are only found in people’s homes or in select restaurants in the region or cities I mentioned. The list of dishes can serve as reference as you travel around the Veneto.

In Venice proper — a destination for unaware tourists in search of pasta and pizza, thinking it’s like the rest of Italy — you won’t find many traditional Veneto recipes, but if you do, go for it. It means that the cooking was probably inspired by a nonna from the region.

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Venetian Hours: Bistrot de Venise

Published by Monday, November 13, 2017 Permalink 1

Stained glass isn’t only for churches. It’s also for temples of cuisine like the Bistrot de Venise.

 
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Venetian Hours: Sant’Erasmo

Published by Sunday, April 2, 2017 Permalink 0

Venetian Hours: Sant’Erasmo, the Vegetable Garden of Venice

Chair in Venetian Lagoon Sant'Erasmo

Marsh in Venetian Lagoon Sant'Erasmo, the farm of Venice, Italy. Venezia, Italia.

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Book Review: Ingredienti, by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

Published by Thursday, July 14, 2016 Permalink 0

Book Review: Ingredienti, by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

by Jonell Galloway

This guide is the testament of a woman who based her cooking life on the truth of every dish she cooked and taught, the vigorous truth of clear, uncluttered taste, taste that arises neither from obeisance to dogma, nor from a craving for attention, but evolves inspired by, and respectful of, the ingredients that nourish it.–Victor Hazan in the introduction to Ingredienti

Marcella Hazan, the “godmother of Italian cooking” and the woman many credit with bringing Italian cuisine to the U.S., died in 2013, leaving behind two years’ worth of handwritten notes in Italian in preparation for Ingredienti. Her lifetime collaborator, Victor Hazan, translated and edited these notes, resulting in what is undoubtedly a classic before its time.

With Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks in my suitcase, I was already “tasting Italy” on my way back from London to my home in France. I had a plan: to use her books to learn how to cook Italian food.

That was nearly twenty years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that the precious ingredients required were simply not available in provincial France. French supermarkets sold pasta made in France with French flour, not Italian pasta made from grano duro. French tomatoes were watery-tasting, even the canned ones. Mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano were rarities found only in a few exclusive shops in Paris. The French were just starting to get interested in olive oil, although in the Southeast it had long been the fat of choice thanks to its Greek and Roman history.

Disappointment quickly set in. Marcella’s Italian recipes weren’t going to taste of Italy using French ingredients. It is no wonder that she wanted to write Ingredienti. She knew this was a problem when living outside Italy and felt the need to enlighten her readers about how to choose and treat ingredients.

It was only later when I moved to Switzerland, where good-quality Italian ingredients of all kinds — tomatoes, pasta, cheese, fruit — were readily available that I returned to Marcella. From Geneva, it was also easy to travel to Turin to the Slow Food gatherings. During the Terra Madre conference, I’d arrive every morning with a roller suitcase and, over the course of the day, fill it with food to take back to Switzerland.

Later, in my Italian food journey — even when living in Italy — Marcella, and later Victor, became for me household words, their books like a treatise, a bible, that I refer to in times of doubt, for example, when I make “red” spaghettini alle vongole, which I must have made a hundred times using Marcella’s recipe.

As important as this book is, Marcella Hazan’s recipes are not only about ingredients. The true secret to her success is the lucid precision of the explanations. A scientist by training with two doctorates, her instructions are methodical, almost mathematical. She counts in minutes and half minutes, and you can count on what she says. Though her cookbooks were not written as culinary classes per se, once you’ve followed her risotto instructions a couple of times, you are struck by the rigorousness of the recipe, of how each step is in its proper place, and each time given is exact, and it becomes like a work of art or a perfect mathematical equation, with no excess and no frill.

Ingredienti is indeed a testament to Marcella Hazan’s undying commitment not only to Italian cooking, but also to the importance of choosing products and the actual process of shopping, on which we put too little emphasis. Marcella had an intimate relationship with products, knowing them inside and out as if they were the baby she’d raised. “Choose a pepper by its size, shape, and heft. It should be large, heavy, shiny, firm, and cubical in form. The long tapered ones are not as solidly meaty.” Now you have a clear image in your mind of what to look for next time you buy a pepper. The entire book is like this, leaving you with the impression that you’d been going to a market class with Marcella for a week and held the artichokes or peppers or onions in your hands.

Speaking of extra-virgin olive oil, she says, “if olive oil were a drug, it would have a place of honour among miracle drugs,” saying that “it well might be the most significant contribution to my survival.” Although she embraces the use of lard and butter, used in her native Emilia-Romagna, olive oil was the superstar in her kitchen.

On the important subject of pasta: one can’t say fresh pasta is always better than dried pasta. Fresh pasta, made with eggs and flour, longs for butter and cream, which seep into the crevices of its rough surface; dried pasta, made with water and flour, is a perfect marriage for olive-oil and tomato-based sauces, which slide gracefully around it. You’ll never look at pasta the same way once you’ve “consumed” this chapter; in fact, you’ll want to read it over and over, making sure not to miss a single point.

She tells you everything you need to know about Parmigiano-Reggiano, not to be confused with generic parmesan cheese. Its goodness depends on the origin of the milk, the breed of cow, the age, the season, and, of course, the method used to make it. Though this is not a recipe book, Marcella throws in the prize of Victor’s grandmother’s recipe for Parmigiano crostini, not to be missed.

The book is broken down by category of ingredient, including “Produce,” “The Essential Pantry,” and “Salumi,” with individual chapters devoted to classic Italian ingredients such as artichoke, eggplant, and tomatoes; pasta, risotto rice, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and red wine vinegar; prosciutto, pancetta, and lardo, and a whole host of other products.

For those who live in locations in the U.S. where Italian ingredients are not available in the same way, just as I did in France, the book includes a fairly exhaustive list of online suppliers of good-quality ingredients with precise indications of what to order from whom.

Count on reading the book from front to cover in one or two sittings, and then keeping it on your kitchen shelf for easy, repeated reference, as you might do with a prayer book. As with all of Marcella and Victor Hazan’s collaborations, there is never an extraneous word, sentence, or idea, so you’ll want to read the important passages numerous times.

Like a yogi, Marcella repeated the same “postures” over and over, meditating upon the ingredients, seeking the truth in them with a focused faith and methodical effort. As a result, Ingredienti reads much like a text written by a spiritual master in old age. It is concrete proof of her dedication; it is the wisdom of years lived in perfect harmony with food, based on her immeasurable knowledge and intimate relationship with ingredients, but also on an almost spiritual reverence for their integrity. It is, indeed, a testament of Marcella and the truth she sought by going to the essence of every foodstuff she touched, and of the truth she attained in her reasoned, scientific manner.

 

 

 

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Venetian Hours: How Not to Visit Venice

Published by Tuesday, March 29, 2016 Permalink 0

Venetian Hours: How Not to Visit Venice

by Jonell Galloway

There are many ways to visit Venice, but if you want a real Venetian experience without disappointments, here are some tips.

  1. Don’t stay near Rialto or San Marco. There’s nothing at all wrong with the neighborhoods, but they are more expensive and more touristy.
  2. Don’t eat in restaurants with colored photos of all the dishes on a plastic sign outside. They tend to be touristy and unauthentic.Santi Maria e Donato basilica/church, Murano, Venice, Italy, travel
  3. Don’t take the vaporetto everywhere. The vaporetto is good for seeing the palaces on the Grand Canal on a sunny day or at night when they’re lighted, but walking lets you fall by chance on hidden palaces, churches, bridges, canals and cafés. These are the great joys of Venice.
    vaporetto water bus rialto bridge venice
  4. Don’t take Alilaguna if you’re coming from the airport. You can’t see a thing through the windows, and the trip takes about twice as long as the No. 5 airport express bus to Piazzale Roma (20′), which leaves from directly in front of the main airport exit.
  5. Don’t walk the streets looking for a restaurant. Choose restaurants in advance instead of walking in spontaneously when you’re hungry. Venice has its full share of tourist traps, especially around San Marco and the Rialto. Note: there are good restaurants in these neighborhoods, but do your research and reserve ahead of time and you’ll have a happier experience.View from Campo San Vio, looking down Grand Canal into San Marco Basin or Bacino, at Santa Maria della Salute church and Punta della Dogana art museum
  6. Don’t go to just any shop or restaurant. Try to frequent places run by Venetians and Italians. This is not racist or chauvinistic; it simply means you’re more likely to have an authentic experience and support the economy in Venice.canal venice san polo
  7. Don’t set out on your day’s sightseeing without studying where the major landmarks in Venice are located. Know where San Marco, Rialto, Accademia, Ferrovia and Piazzale Roma are in terms of north, south, east and west and your day will go much more smoothly. It’s also good to memorize the vicinity of major landmarks and the names of the sestieri or six city districts: Castello, Cannaregio, San Marco, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce and San Polo.sestieri or districts of venice map courtesty of http://www.italyguides.it/en/veneto/venice/interactive-map-of-venice#!/catid=36
  8. Don’t think you can get everywhere like you do in a city with a grid layout. Maps are not always the best way to get around. Let yourself get lost. When you’re really lost, look for the arrows near the street names marked San Marco, Rialto, Accademia, Ferrovia and Piazzale Roma.
  9. Don’t buy tickets each time you get on the vaporetto. Buy a Venezia Unica Citypass for one, two, three or seven days. Yes, it’s expensive, but so are individual tickets at 7.50 Euros a shot.
    Ponte di Chiodo, only bridge without parapet/side rails in Venice Venezia
  10. Don’t go to Venice uninformed. Do your homework before arriving. No matter what, you’ll spend a lot of wonderful hours getting lost, but you’ll make better use of the restricted opening hours.
  11. Don’t sleep in. Museums and churches tend to close early and some even close for lunch.
  12. Don’t rely on your guide books for opening and closing hours. They’re invariably out of date and times tend to change according to the season and the budget. Web sites are not always up-to-date either, but they’re more reliable. City museum opening times can be checked on the MUVE site. Otherwise, look at websites for individual museums.

Interactive map of Venice.

 

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A French Cook in Venice: Sea Bass and Potatoes

Published by Wednesday, March 23, 2016 Permalink 0

Venetian Hours: A French Cook in Venice: Sea Bass and Potatoes

by Jonell Galloway

In France, many a festive occasion is highlighted with sea bass. And since France and Venice are first cousins once removed, it turns out to be rather the same in Venice. A big fat bass is considered a treat.

Both places make sea bass in a salt crust, which is perhaps the cooking method that best preserves the juices, but when you have a nice wild one, which is rare enough these days, it will stand up to roasting.

jonell galloway holding wild sea bass venice italy photo by Alexandra Korey http://www.arttrav.com/

I got inspiration for this recipe from a traditional Venetian recipe called branzino con patate et olive, or sea bass with potatoes and olives, in which they cook the bass on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes. One finds it in the better restaurants, but rarely in the touristy ones, perhaps because it’s time-consuming, although not difficult.

I’m wild about vegetables, so I added the sun-dried tomatoes, which add not only color, but a deeper flavor and more texture, an idea I got from Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso near San Apostoli in our neighborhood of Cannaregio. The baby Swiss chard is also my addition.

bietola baby swiss chard venice, italy, French cook in Venice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I add olives, sometimes not. Other times, I add capers, and other times both. This partially depends on whether the bass is wild or farmed. The farmed ones lack full flavor and these additions add some life as well as contrast to the dish. Onions can also add spark, especially to a farm-raised bass.

As always, my French touch means that I add a bit more wine than the Venetians. I do like my sauce. After all, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

 

Wild Sea Bass, Venetian Hours, The Rambling Epicure, French cook in Venice

Recipe

Serves 4

Whole sea bass, wild if possible, cleaned and scaled, about 3 lbs. or 1.5 kg
4 large potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

10 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Parsley, chopped coarsely
2-3 cups white wine
4-5 branches of fresh rosemary
Olive oil
One bunch of young Swiss chard or 
bietola
Salted capers
Black olives (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heavy metal roasting pan

Click here for a conversion chart.

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F / 220°C.
  2. Thinly slice the potatoes.
  3. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into the roasting pan. A broiler pan or heavy roasting pan is perfect.
  4. Place the potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes in the pan, in a single layer, turning them to evenly coat them in the olive oil.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Place in oven, turning every 5 minutes and adding oil if they start drying out. Cook until the potatoes start to feel soft, but firm, when pricked with a knife or 15-20 minutes.
  7. Remove the vegetables from the oven. Turn carefully in the pan juices.
  8. Evenly distribute the onions, parsley and branches of rosemary, setting one branch aside.
  9. Place the sea bass on the bed of potatoes. Insert one branch of rosemary in the cavity.
  10. Salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Add one cup of white wine to the bottom of the pan.
  12. Place in the oven and lower the temperature to 400°F / 200°C, adding more white wine every time it evaporates and turning the potatoes each time. This prevents the potatoes from sticking and rehumidifies the sun-dried tomatoes.
  13. After 15-20 minutes, use a metal spatula and check whether the top of the fish is cooked by carefully trying to lift it off the bone. It is important to use a metal spatula because it “cuts through” the fish; a rubber one is thicker and might mangle the flesh. If it can barely be lifted away from the bone, the top is nearly cooked, so remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn it. You may need two heavy-duty spatulas or utensils to do so because of the weight.
  14. Return it to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, checking it in the same manner using a metal spatula to see if it is cooked, and adding white wine as necessary.
  15. When the fish is fully cooked — just enough to lift it off the bone — lay the leaves of chard over the fish and vegetables and return to the oven for 1 minute, just enough to wilt it.
  16. Remove the baking pan from the oven and turn the chard in the rendered juices. Filet the fish; it will usually be possible to simply lift it off with a metal spatula.
  17. Serve immediately.
  18. Serve salted capers as a garnish.
  19. Serve any white wine left in the pan as sauce.

Tip: If you hesitate about adding this much white wine, you can substitute half of it with freshly squeezed orange juice. The exact cooking time of the sea bass varies depending on the thickness of the fish, thus the importance of using the spatula technique. There is no need to add lemon when serving, since the white wine gives an acidic edge. You can also use turbot for this dish; follow the same steps, but because it is not as thick as bass, the cooking time will be less.

 

 

 

 

 

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Venetian Hours: Rosalba Carriera’s Venice

Published by Tuesday, March 15, 2016 Permalink 0

Venetian Hours: Venice in Blue, by Rosalba Carriera

by Jonell Galloway

Rosalba Zuanna Carriera was born into a modest Venetian family in 1675, but her world was not devoid of images, since her paternal grandfather was a painter and her mother a lacemaker. Her father was steward of the Procurator Bon, equivalent to a clerk.

Forever conscious of the family’s lack of means and therefore of dowry, her mother is said to have ensured that her three daughters learned Italian, French and Latin, as well as lacemaking, hoping to marry them into good families.

pastel portrait of woman in pale blue by rosalba carriera rococco portrait painter venice venetian hours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A French Cook in Venice: Fegato alla Veneziana

Published by Sunday, March 6, 2016 Permalink 1

Franco-Venetian Cuisine

What to Eat in Venice: Fegato alla Veneziana, or Venetian-style Calf’s Liver with Caramelized Onions

by Jonell Galloway

Many say this is the ultimate Venetian specialty, but considering that Venetians eat mainly fish, one could easily argue that point. A good fegato can be the highlight of a day or weekend, however.

Everyone loves caramelized onions, but some people dislike even the idea of eating liver. Calf’s liver is finer than beef or chicken, and when it’s topped with sweet onions, it is indeed a highly refined dish.

You’ll see the influence of my background in French cuisine; I went a bit heavy on the white wine when deglazing the pan, but it renders a succulent sauce.

One of the crucial elements to the success of this dish is that the liver be of exceptional quality and thinly sliced. Thick slabs simply don’t work and take away from the refined aspect of this dish.

Another secret is to slow cook the onions and to just seize the liver, no more. If you cook it more and on slow heat, it will become leathery.

Recipe

Ingredients

400 g onions
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
400 g calf’s liver cut in extra-thin slices
1-2 cups white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian parsley, chopped
Skillet large enough to spread liver in a single layer
White polenta

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